Stella hurried Frank across the meadows

Stella hurried Frank across the meadows, a rather difficult task, as he would insist upon talking, his teeth chattering, and his clothes dripping.
“What a splendid fellow, Stella! What a happy girl you ought to be—you are!”
“Perhaps I am,” assented Stella, with a little smile; “but do you make haste, Frank! Can’t you run any faster? I’ll race you to the lane!”
“No, you won’t,” he retorted cheerfully. “You run like a greyhound at the best of times, and now I seem to have got a couple of tons clinging to me, you’d beat me hollow. But, Stella! think of him plunging off the beam! Many a man would have been satisfied to jump off the bank; if he had, he wouldn’t have saved me! He knew that; and he made nothing of it, nothing! And that is the man they call a dandy and a fop!”
“Never mind what they call him, but run!” implored Stella.
“I don’t know any other man who could have done it,” he went on, his teeth chattering; “and how friendly and jolly he was, calling me Frank and telling me to call him Leycester! Stella, what a lucky girl you are; but he is not a bit too good for you after all! No one is too good for you! And he does love you, Stella; I could see it by the way he looked at you, and you thought to hide it, and that I shouldn’t see it. Did you think I was a muff?”
“I think you will be laid up with a bad cold, sir, if you don’t run!” said Stella. “What will uncle say?”
Frank stopped short and his face paled; he seemed to shrink.
[155]
“My father must know nothing about it,” he said. “Don’t tell him, Stella; I will get in the back way and change. Don’t tell him!”
“But——” said Stella.
“No, no,” he reiterated; “I don’t want him to know. It will only trouble him, and”—his voice faltered—”I have given him so much trouble.”
“Very well,” said Stella. “But come along or you will be ill, and then he must know.”
This appeared to have the desired effect, and he took her hand and set off at a run. They reached the lane, and were just turning into it, when the tall, thin figure of Jasper emerged.
Both Stella and Frank stopped, and she felt his hand close in hers tightly.
“Stella, here’s that man Adelstone,” he said, in a whisper of aversion. “Must we stop?”
Jasper settled that question by raising his hat, and coming forward with outstretched hand.
“Good-evening!” he said, his small, keen eyes glancing from Stella to the boy, and taking in the fact of the wet clothes in a moment.
“What is the matter?”
“Nothing much,” said Stella with a smile, and hurriedly. “My cousin has fallen into the water. We are hurrying home.”
“Fallen in the water!” said Jasper, turning and walking beside them. “How did he manage that?”
Frank was silent, and Stella, with a little flush, said, gravely:
“We were on the water——”
“I was fishing from the weir,” broke in Frank, pressing her hand, warningly, “and I fell in; that is all.”
There was something almost like defiance in the tone and the glance he gave at the sinister face.
“Into the weir stream!” exclaimed Jasper, “and you got ashore! You must be a good swimmer, my dear Frank!”
“I am—pretty well,” said Frank, almost sullenly.
“Perhaps you had the waterman to help you,” said Jasper, looking from one to the other.
Then Stella, who felt that it would be better to speak out, said, gravely:
“Lord Leycester was near, and leapt in and saved him.”
Jasper’s face paled, and an angry light shot from his eyes.
“How fortunate that he should happen to be near!” he said. “It was brave of him!”
There was a suspicion of a sneer in the thin voice that roused the spirit of the boy.
“It was brave,” he said. “Perhaps you don’t know what it is to swim through a weir current, Mr. Adelstone?”
Jasper smiled down at the flushed, upturned face.
“No, but I think I should have tried if I had been lucky enough to be in Lord Leycester’s place.”
“I’m very glad you weren’t,” said Frank, in a low voice.
[156]
“I am sure you would,” said Stella, quickly. “Anyone would. Come, Frank. Good-evening, Mr. Adelstone.”
Jasper paused and looked at her. She looked very beautiful with her flushed face and eager eyes, and his heart was beating rapidly.
“I came out hoping to see you, Miss Etheridge,” he said. “May I come in?”
“Yes, of course; uncle will be very pleased,” she said. “But go in the front way, please; we are going in at the back, because we don’t wish uncle to know. It would only upset him. You will not tell him, please?”
ello-hdpi-afa92912“You may always rely on my discretion,” said Jasper.
Stella, still holding Frank’s hand, dragged him into the kitchen, and stopped Mrs. Penfold’s exclamation of dismay.
“Frank has had an accident, Mrs. Penfold. Yes, he fell in the river. I’ll tell you all about it afterward; but he must change his things at once—at once. Run up, Frank, and get into the blanket——”
“All right,” he said; then, as he went out of the room, he took her by the arm.
“Don’t let that man stay, Stella. I—hate him.”
“My dear Frank!”
“I hate him! What did he mean by sneering at Lord Leycester?”
“He doesn’t like Lord Leycester,” said Stella.
“Who cares?” exclaimed Frank, indignantly. “Curs are not particularly fond of lions, but——”
Stella would hear no more, but pushed him up the stairs with anxious impatience; then she went into the studio. As she neared the door she could hear Jasper Adelstone’s voice. He was talking to her uncle, and something in the tone struck her as peculiar, and struck her unpleasantly.
There was a tone of familiarity, almost of covert power in it that annoyed her.
With her hand on the door she paused, and it seemed to her as if she heard him speak her name; she was not sure, and she would not wait, but with a little heightened color she opened the door and entered.
As she did so Jasper laid his hand upon the old man’s arm as if to call his attention to her entrance, and the painter turned round with a start, and looking at her intently, said, with evident perplexity:
“A mere girl—a mere girl, Jasper!” and shaking his head, resumed his work.
Jasper stood a moment, a smile on his face, watching Stella from the corner of his eyes; then he said, suddenly:
“I have been admiring your roses, Miss Stella, and breaking the last commandment. I have been coveting them.”
“Oh!” said Stella. “Pray take any you like, there are such numbers of them that we can spare them; can we not, uncle?”
As usual, the painter took no notice, and Jasper, in a matter-of-fact voice, said:
“Do you mind coming out and telling me which I may cut?[157] I only want one or two to take to London with me, to brighten my dull rooms.”
“Certainly,” said Stella, moving toward the window. “Are you going to London?”
He muttered something and followed her out, his eyes taking in the lithe grace of her figure with a hungry wistfulness.
“Now then,” said Stella, standing in the middle of the path and waving her hand:
“Which shall it be, white rose or red?” and she smiled up at him.
He looked at her for a moment in silence. She had never appeared to him more beautiful than this morning; there was a subtle light of hidden joy shining in her eyes, a glow of youthful hope about her face that set his heart beating with mingled pleasure and pain—delight in the beauty which he had sworn should be his, pain and torture in the thought that another—the hated Lord Leycester—had already looked upon it that morning.
Even as he stood silently regarding her, a bitter suspicion smote through his heart that the joyousness which shone from the dark eyes had been set there by Lord Leycester. He bit his lip and his face went pale, then with a start he came close to her.
“Give me which you please,” he said. “Here is a knife.”
Stella took the knife heedlessly and carelessly. There was no significance in the deed; she did not know that he would attach any importance to the fact that she should cut the rose and give it to him with her own hand; if she had so understood it she would have dropped the knife as if it had been an adder.
In simple truth she was not thinking of him—scarcely saw him; she was thinking of that lover, the god of her heart, and seeing him as he swam through the river foam. For she was scarcely conscious of Jasper Adelstone’s presence, and in the acuteness of his passion he almost suspected it.
“White or red?” she said, knife in hand.
He glanced at her.
“Red,” he said, and his lips felt hot and dry.
Stella cut a red rose—a dark red rose, and with a little womanly gesture put it to her face; it was a little girlish trick, all unthinking, unconsciously done, but it sent the blood to the heart of the man watching her in a sudden, passionate rush.
“There,” she said; “it is a beauty. They speak of the roses of Florence, but give me an English rose, Florentine roses are fuller than these, but not so beautiful—oh, not so beautiful! There,” and she held it out to him, without looking at him. If she had done so, she would have surely read something in the white constrained face, and small, glittering eyes that would have warned her.
He took it without a word. In simple truth he was trying to restrain himself. He felt that the time was not ripe for action—that a word of the devouring passion which consumed him would be dangerous, and he whispered to himself, “Not yet! not yet!” But her loveliness, that touch of the rose to his face, overmastered his cool, calculating spirit.
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“Thank you,” he said at last; “thank you very much. I shall value it dearly. I shall put it on my desk in my dark, grim room, and think of you.”
Then Stella looked up and started slightly.
“Oh!” she said, hurriedly. “You would like some more perhaps? Pray take what you would like,” and she held out the knife, and looked upon him with a sudden coldness in the eyes that should have warned him.
“No, I want no more,” he said. “All the roses that ever bloomed would not add to my pleasure. It is this rose from your hand that I value.”
Stella made a slight movement toward the window, but he put out his hand.
“Stay one moment—only a moment,” he said, and in his eagerness he put out his hand and touched her arm, the arm sacred to Leycester.
Stella shrank back, and a little shudder swept through her.
“What—what is it!” she asked, in a low voice that she tried to make calm and cold and repressive.
He stood, shutting and opening the knife with a nervous restlessness, as unlike his calm impassability as the streaming torrent that forces its way through the mountain gorge is like the lake at their feet; his eyes fixed on her face with anxious eagerness.
“I want to speak to you,” he said. “Only a few words—a very few words. Will you listen to me? I hope you will listen to me.”
Stella stood, her face turned away from him, her heart beating, but coldly and with fear and repugnance, not as it had beat when Leycester’s low tones first fell upon her ear.
He moistened his lips again, and his hand closed over the shut knife with a tight clasp, as if he were striving to regain self-command.
“I know it is unwise. I feel that—that you would rather not listen to me, and that I shall do very little good by speaking, but I cannot. There are times, Stella——”
Stella moved slightly at the familiar name.
“There are times when a man loses self-control, when he flings prudence to the winds, or rather, lets it slip from him. This is one of those moments, Stella—Miss Etheridge; I feel that I must speak, let it cost me what it may.”
Still silent, she stood as if turned to stone. He put his hand to his brow—his white, thin hand, with its carefully trimmed nails—and wiped away the perspiration that stood in big beads.
“Miss Etheridge, I think you can guess what it is I want to say, and I hope that you will not think any the less of me because of my inability to say it as it should be said, as I would have it said. Stella, if you look back, if you will recall the times since first we met, you cannot fail to know my meaning.”
She turned her face toward him for a moment, and shook her head.
“You mean that I have no right to think so. Do you think[159] that you, a woman, have not seen what every woman sees so quickly when it is the case—that I have learned to love you!”
The word was out at last, and as it left him he trembled.
Stella did not start, but her face went paler than before, and she shrank slightly.
“Yes,” he went on, “I have learned to love you. I think I loved you the first evening we met; I was not sure then, and—I will tell you the whole truth, I have sworn to myself that I would do it—I tried to fight against it. I am not a man easily given to love; no, I am a man of the world—one who has to make his way in the world, one who has an ambition; and I tried to put you from my thoughts—I tried hard, but I failed.”
He paused, and eyed her watchfully. Her face was like a mask of stone.
“I grew to love you more day by day—I was not happy away from you. I carried your image up with me to London—it came between me and my work; but I was patient—I told myself that I should gain nothing by being too rash—that I must give you time to know me, and to—to love me.”
He paused and moistened his lips, and looked at her. Why did she not speak—of what was she thinking?
At that moment, if he could but have known it, she was thinking of her true lover—of the young lord who had not waited and calculated, but who had poured the torrent of his passionate love at her feet—had taken her in his arms and made her love him. And as she thought, how small, how mean this other man seemed to her!
“I gave you mine—I meant to give you more,” he continued; “I want to do something worthy of your love. I am—I am not a rich man, Stella—I have no title—as yet——”
Stella’s eyes flashed for a moment, and her lips closed. It was an unlucky speech for him.
“No, not yet; but I shall have riches and title—I have set my mind on them, and there is nothing that I have set my mind on that I have not got, or will not get—nothing!” he repeated, with almost fierce intensity.
Still she did not speak. Like a bird charmed, fascinated by a snake, she stood, listening though every word was torture to her.
“I have set my mind on winning your love, Stella. I love you as few men love, with all my heart and soul. There is nothing I would not do to win you, there is nothing I would—pause at.”
A faint shudder stole through her; and he saw it, and added, quickly:
“I would do anything to make you happy—move heaven and earth to see you always smiling as you smiled this morning. Stella, I love you! What have you to say to me?”
He stopped, white and seemingly exhausted, his thin lips tightly compressed, his whole frame quivering.